The founder of America’s largest underground coal mining company was infuriated, but not surprised, by last December’s UN climate change summit. “The errant President, Barack Obama, is attempting to commit the United States to draconian carbon dioxide emissions requirements when the rest of the world is not going to make any commitments,” declares Bob Murray, 76-year-old CEO of Murray Energy Corp.
The U.S. coal industry has been in Obama’s crosshairs since he took office in 2009, vowing to shift to a green-energy economy. Since then, the toll of coal-fired units (of which power plants are comprised) that have closed, fixed dates for closing or converted to cleaner-burning natural gas has grown to more than 400.
In the same period, the share of U.S. electricity generated from coal has declined from about one-half to one-third. The Dow Jones U.S. Coal Index has fallen by more than 97 per cent from its peak in 2008.
But Big Coal and its Republican allies are still counterpunching hard. In 2010, obdurate Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, from coal-rich Kentucky, killed a proposed emissions cap-and-trade plan by persuading several nervous Democrats to abandon Obama.
Since then, the Republicans have won control of both houses of Congress, and Obama has tried to bypass them via the Environmental Protection Agency. But producers and coal-dependent states have fired back with dozens of lawsuits.
Murray has filed six. “Twenty-seven states have joined this old man and submitted briefs in my lawsuits,” Murray says. “And they have traction.”
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